"No," I wailed, closing my eyes, squinching my face ,and turning away from Richard, as if doing all of this would make the truth disappear. "No," I repeated horrified. I had known Donna since she was twelve or thirteen.
Richard and I were in the neighborhood center to take part in a fundraising film about help we had gotten there and volunteer work we do there.
Richard had come from a methadone center. He smelled like a wet towel that had laid in a humid bathroom for days. A few years before, he served time in jail for using drugs and beating up his grandmother whose house he and Donna had lived in before the old woman died.
Donna would have been in the film, too, I'm sure, had she been alive. At the end of each day in middle school, she would walk in her Nike's a couple of blocks to the center's after-school program. In her school uniform of khakis and a navy blue polo shirt, the tall, chubby, freckled teenager with brown hair did her homework, learned to design dresses, make flower arrangements, and create pricey pieces of jewelry. She planned her future at the center. She would design dresses and happily dash out of her church wedding with her husband under a canopy of rose petals.
Her plans came to a screeching halt when she got pregnant, dropped out of high school, and delivered twins. She began smoking weed and pawning her fine jewelry to support her habit.
Richard had been homeless since his grandmother died. He had a mailbox at the center and picked up food, clothing, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, and shaving equipment. His volunteer part in the film was to explain why the center was still needed in the gentrifying neighborhood.
Donna would have been homeless before her death too, had she not secured a job as a live-in caretaker for a senior citizen. "The job came with perks, percossettes," Richard said, smiling broadly, at his witty remark.
Richard told me he thought Donna had gotten into drugs stronger than percocets. Their mother was a heroin addict. She and Donna were very close. Despite what he suspected of Donna's taking up harder drugs, he still had doubts about the medical examiner's report, citing a drug overdose as the cause of her death. She was 29. An independent autopsy wasn't performed.